"Berner Sennenhund" means Bernese Alpine Herdsman's Dog in German, translating to English as the Bernese Mountain Dog. Developed from dogs found in the countryside around Bern, Switzerland, one of several Swiss breeds, the early Berners were farm dogs, guarding the farm, driving cows to and from their mountain pastures, and pulling carts loaded with milk cans to the dairy. The breed was saved from near extinction by Professor Albert Heim around the turn of the century.
Berners first came to America in 1926, and possibly even earlier. In 1937, the first of the breed was registered with the AKC. Although becoming increasingly popular as a family dog, Berners may not be for everyone. Large, assertive animals with long flowing coats that shed continually won't fit in with many lifestyles. Like other large breeds, Bernese Mountain Dogs are not long-lived, with many not surviving their sixth or seventh year, mainly due to cancer and auto-immune diseases. The Swiss have a saying: "Three years a young dog, three years a good dog, three years an old dog. All else is a gift from God." However, many of us have had dogs survive well over ten years, and each year in the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America's publication The Alpenhorn, the fancy boasts on its seniors of ten, eleven, twelve and even thirteen years of age.
The members of Potomac Valley Bernese Mountain Dog Club, Inc. are happy to help you determine if a Berner is the right dog for you. Please write your questions to: Bob Reeve.
Is a Berner right for you?
If you are thinking of making a Bernese part of your family, please consider the following as part of your research:
1. Berners are good with children, however, an adult should be the primary trainer and supervisor of a BMD puppy. A 15 to 20 pound eight-week old baby soon grows to a 50 pound junior, and at one year can reach 100+ pounds. Wild play and unsupervised teasing may not only result in permanent injury to puppy, but can ingrain bad habits that will become unmanageable when that "puppy" weighs more than your children. DO YOU HAVE TIME TO DEVOTE TO RAISING ANOTHER "BABY?"
2. Berners want to be where you are: in your home, in your car, in your face. This is not a breed that thrives left to its own in a backyard. If your primary motivation is to acquire a playmate for your children, are you prepared to be the best friend when the novelty wears off? CAN YOU BE A DOG'S BEST FRIEND?
3. Berners have their share of health problems, some requiring a significant investment at your vets. DO YOU HAVE THE WHEREWITHAL TO PROVIDE MEDICAL CARE WHEN NEEDED?
4. Berners are innately reserved and need a lot of socialization as pups to help them grow into well-adapted adults. Socializing takes time. Pups should be introduced to new people and new situations on a daily basis. Obedience classes are required by many breeders in their contracts. CAN YOU MAKE THE TIME TO HELP YOUR PUP DEVELOP INTO A GOOD CANINE CITIZEN?
5. If you are looking for a jogging partner, consider another breed. While many Berners can and do enjoy a daily outing, for the most part they do not enjoy long runs in warm weather. Also, BMDs mature slowly, not reaching full adulthood until some time after their second birthday. Running, jumping and other high-impact activities can result in permanent, crippling injuries. DOES A BERNER REALLY FIT YOUR LIFESTYLE?
6. Berners shed. Berners shed a lot. All Berners, male and female, shed a lot. You will have hair in your house. You will have a lot of hair in your house. Females "blow" their coats twice yearly with their seasons; spayed females and males tend to limit a heavy molt to once a year. However, like all mammals, BMDs drop hair daily. If having animal fur in the house bothers you, don't buy a Berner. In case you missed it, BERNERS SHED A LOT.
7. A small adult female BMD is about 23 1/2 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs around 65 pounds; a large male can be 27 to 28" tall and weigh 120 pounds or more. While not requiring the space of a sporting breed, a Berner will appreciate a yard large enough for a good romp. A Berner's tail is a barometer for his happy nature and can spell disaster for your treasures set on low tables. IS YOUR HOME PREPARED FOR AN ACTIVE, LARGE TAIL WAGGER?